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Joy Buzzer: The inFamous Review

[Now that Dtoid and the gaming community at large is officially entered "inundated with E3 news" mode, I'm taking a little time to indulge in what I don't usually do on this C-blog out of a misplaced, yet self-deprecating sense of blogging snobbery, such as review a super-popular game, engage a long-dead meme, and otherwise do stuff that's NOT in service to Persona, Valkyria Chronicles, or Demon's Souls]

Any well-informed gamer already knows what inFamous is all about: bike courier Cole McGrath wakes up in the middle of a crater that used to be Empire City with a power set that looks like a mashup of Electro, Black Lightning, Kristen Bell, and Static, with a touch of Sailor Jupiter (Gigawatt Blades + Polarity Shield!) and what sounds like lung cancer.

Seriously, Cole does the best Solid Snake impression I've ever heard (even if he might not mean to), so Kojima should tap him in case David Hayter gets hit by a bus or something (knock on wood). You heard it here first!

In any case, inFamous' other major feature is the aspect du jour of contemporary games: moral choice. Cole can occasionally pull off actions that the game judges as evil or good, turning his zappy-zappy an appropriate shade of red or blue.

Actually, scratch that, let's say "the appropriate screaming, garish, super-obvious red or blue glow, instead. Such is how stark, how diametric every moral choice is portrayed. When the time comes to go "Hero" or "Infamous", you're literally stopped in your tracks, with Cole rasping out "HAY GUYS RED DOOR/BLUE DOOR TIME TAKE YOUR PICK."

The choices are more often than not taken to absurd levels of bipolarity, swinging between"Ooh, a kitten! Let me pet it and treasure it and take it home and name it George," and "Ooh, a kitten! Let me beat it and skin it and hang it screaming on a hook in the plaza, that all may know my name and associate such actions with me. Excuse me while I twirl my mustache and cackle menacingly."

That sounds like the worst thing ever, and it probably would be, were this a different game. Thankfully, inFamous makes it work, and work well, in fact. But how? Ironically, Sucker Punch makes its otherwise stupidly-executed mechanic pay off by robbing it of any chance it had at being meaningful.

"LOL WUT," you might say. How could Sucker Punch's (unintentionally) undermining their own game's key concept make it better? True enough, inFamous is definitely not as good as it could have been had its moral choices been more competently written, but the point is that the way its other key concept smooths out this potentially crippling flaw, making it (and I say this without reservation), one of the best superhero games I've ever played.

I'm talking about the power acquisition. By essentially forcing you outright to commit to red or blue, you determine your own combat style. The diametric nature of your karmic actions encourage the player to construct his tactics around the choices he makes. Helping (or hurting) that kitten becomes less a decision of whether or not you like helping or hurting, but whether or not you want to have Overload Burst or Arc Lightning, your zappy-zappy to be red or blue. Hero or Infamous. That shift from emotional empowerment to mercenary desire saves inFamous from a bad attempt at establishing a comic book IP to an awesome action game with a double power set.

Of course, this would all be for naught if the game's combat weren't fun, but inFamous' combat is riotously so. I might be in the minority here, but in my estimation the game is the most tactical superhero game I've played to date.

Most of the enemies, especially in numbers and in a blacked-out portion the series, present significant threat. Crack shots with their rifles and RPGs (marksmanship seems to be a part of the K-12 over there), nearly every encounter had me jumping and rolling and climbing and scrambling, take out a few guys, then run away to find a car or lightpost and recharge.

I've heard a lot of complaints about "not feeling like a bad-ass" in the game, but I think they're confusing "bad-ass" with "invincible". Many superhero games are exactly that, where minor enemies post little to no threat, the whole appeal being the idea of unlimited power. That's certainly not a bad thing, but it's not the only thing you can do when presented with the concept. You can still be a bad-ass and still risk having said ass handed to you.

But what's the point if I can't be awesomely invulnerable? The point is that what puts Cole above his enemies is his versatility and unique powers, rather than his ability to take damage or shrug off attacks. No one else can climb straight up the walls, grind a power line, jump off and hit the ground in a thunder drop, send a dude floating with a shockwave, waste a group with a shock grenade, dodge roll away from a rocket, and then kick the floating dude in the face when he lands (quickest way to take down a guy at close range).

A lot of superhero games simply hand you a boatload of powers you'll only use to feel like you aren't wasting them *coughSpiderManWebofShadowscough*, but making most of Cole's abilities feel like analogues to existing shooter weapons (pistol/grenade/rocket launcher/etc.), juicing them up with the karmic variations, and then wrapping it all up in the mobility brings out the diversity and tactical brilliance of having a massive firefight in a crowded city.

And yes, I could have done with a little less accuracy on part of my foes (because hobos with guns shouldn't have been able to go to 5th-grade sniper school), but getting into a fight with eight guys and a conduit is just as intense as elbow-dropping a tank. As an aside, the best enemies in the game are dust men, because they crash and clank around when you hit them in the face.

So yes, I DO like inFamous, and its many flaws are worked over by the fact that I can zap people in the head with lightning outside of a Star Wars game.

Incidentally, I was just Googling images that had lightning in them. Could you tell?
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About Josh Tolentinoone of us since 9:23 PM on 02.07.2007

When not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Japanator, Dtoid's sister site for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Glorious Nippon.

Crowdfunded games backed:
Pillars of Eternity
Star Citizen
Xbox LIVE:unangbangkay
PSN ID:unangbangkay
Steam ID:unangbangkay
Mii code:6258-3610-4242-3684


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